Why I Make Mosaics

Photo by Ashley Hayward

A young man came into the gallery one day and, like many, stood with his mouth agape staring at the art on the walls. “What is this?” he asked. “It’s mosaic!” I answered with a smile. “Well how do you make it? Where do you get all these little pieces of glass?” “We cut them,” I said with a little glow. “Cut them? You mean you have to cut every one of these pieces?” “Yes,” I said. “Every piece.” “Oh man,” he said. “Why would anyone do this? There’s got to be a way to streamline this process. Somebody needs to sell the glass already cut. Doesn’t anyone sell pre-cut glass?” “Well, possibly,” I said, “but then I wouldn’t be interested.”

And there you have the answer in a  nutshell. I make mosaics because it’s hard.

During the monthly and often weekly classes I teach, new students will often take on a familiar stricken look when they first start cutting. I tell them to relax and cut for the pleasure of exploration — that making mosaics means learning the love to process. And the process is hard.

Some might say I like a hard life in general. I’m a good one for trudging through the minutiae of a situation, considering every possibility, and then selecting the most time and soul-consuming avenue. To me, this simply equates to actually living my life rather than just going through the motions. It’s the same way with cooking, planning, picking out (and decorating) a Christmas tree, traveling, thinking, loving, and art. Either I do it to the max, or I don’t do it at all. Otherwise, what have I gained? What have I given?

I love mosaic art. I love the interplay of color. I love the dancing of light. I love the intention of andamento and the way it makes your eyes move. I love the heft of a piece, and not only the weight of its gathered materials, but the sum of thought and labor involved. I love the antiquity of the artform and the accumulated labor of so many who have labored before me. But most of all, I like the slow, intentional, repetitive, considered and exacted repetition and thrill of determining the perfect cut, achieving it, and fitting it into place to create, many hours and days and weeks and sometimes months later, a piece of art that demanded and received my full attention — my full passion.

One of my favorite mantras is from the movie “A League of their Own,” when Gina Davis admits that something is hard. Tom Hanks (isn’t it always Tom Hanks?) says “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The Hard is what makes it Good.” He’s so right.

It’s a funny thing about “easy.” There are many things that I do because they are “easy” for me, like sorting or folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher or writing a press release — I can have them done in the time it takes to think “oh — I should do this.” Accomplishment is a powerful feel-good, and we can rack up way more of the easies than the hards. But does that make them good? Well, no. None of my easies will ever make it to my Very Favorite Things list.

But give me something hard: determining and creating the ideal ratio of perfect cuts to “human touch” in art, cooking the (very) occasional meal that takes alllllllll day, raising a child, or growing the balls to be my fullest self, and I’m all over it.

So yeah. I love mosaic because it’s damn hard. I think we all need to love and engage in something that tests us, that pushes us flat up against the wall and says, “Do your best. Now.” What tests you? And what do you love about it?

20 thoughts on “Why I Make Mosaics

  1. I love mosaics too! I love how many small pieces of glass, pottery, stones or papers come together to form a beautiful picture or pattern. Our lives are mosaics created through many experiences which mold our character. I also do glass mosaics. I love the colours and how the light reflects the glass. The smaller the glass pieces are the more challenging and the more detail can be created. It makes me very happy when I finish a piece. A real sense of accomplishment!

  2. Agreed 100% – my mantra has always been that anything worthwhile does not come easily. I hope that continues to be my mantra forever! Great post!

  3. There are numerous “hard” things that I don’t care for or look forward to, but I do agree that the enjoyment or fulfillment one receives from a task with which one has a passionate interest is directly proportional to the work involved in its completion. You make a very good argument for this concept and no one could read this entry and posit that you don’t love your work immensely. I look forward to someday seeing it in person, and properly appreciating all of your hard work.

    This post was long awaited, but well worth it. I love your writing – your insight and your ability to make me contemplate the obvious. Keep it up!

  4. What a great article on the making of mosaics and a great way to educate others on the process. Sometimes I feel mosaics are undervalued and your article gave meaning on the work I try to do. Thanks so much.

  5. Yes!! The process is what I love about mosaics. It is hard – I love this post. Everything you’ve mentioned I can relate to. I also feel this way about roller derby. xx

  6. You really find the words to express exactly why and how we all feel about mosaics..thank you for sharing this..Love always

  7. You have absolutely nailed my own feelings about being drawn to mosaics. It is a good feeling to be a part of a community that, though small, creates such beautiful tactile art works and together is keeping alive this centuries old art form and developing a wider appreciation for it.

    The scenario in your first paragraph is very typical … it seems almost incredulous to many that all those little pieces of glass, porcelain, stone … all were hand cut to fit. And what often follows, is “You must have a lot of patience!” Then the chat leads to whatever one enjoys doing takes a certain amount of time – some more, some less …. some lots more! and regardless of the time commitment, if that is one’s path, the time element is just a part of the process.

    Pam I would love to share your article on my blog and in newsletters I do for three art groups … giving you a credit line, of course! Thank you for writing this.

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